http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/12/21/pusd-officials-schools-are-safe


Pleasanton Weekly

News - December 21, 2012

PUSD officials: Schools are safe

Procedures in place for emergencies

by Glenn Wohltmann

In the wake of last week's school shooting in Connecticut, the Pleasanton school district and school administrators are doing their best to let both parents and students know that schools here are safe, both physically and emotionally.

Counselors were at schools across the district on Monday, offering emotional support for students who needed to talk about their reaction to the fatal shooting of 20 students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn. They've also reached out to staff members.

"There was a need," said Hearst Elementary School Principal Michael Kuhfal. "There were counselors available for staff, there were counselors available for students."

He said school counselors and others were on hand to provide information to parents asking what their kids should be told, and how to deal with children asking questions.

Pleasanton is lucky, Kuhfal said, because many other district in the state have let all their counselors go to balance budgets.

Kuhfal said parents in general should not allow their young children to watch TV programs such as the news reports that have covered the mass killing. For kids who find out about the school shooting and ask questions, he said parents should acknowledge that it occurred, but should stress that they are at their schools in Pleasanton.

"'Yes, there was a tragedy, but the bad guy's gone,'" he suggested parents might say. "Turn it into a positive, that kids are safe."

Kuhfal said most direct contacts he had with parents over the last week were from those offering words of encouragement.

"I think parents know I'm going to do what's best for Hearst," he said.

Kuhfal has a thick binder filled with school safety procedures. While the Pleasanton Weekly has agreed not to disclose the specifics, Kuhfal outlined them generally, explaining that every school in the district has a similar plan.

All schools do drills every month, and those include fire drills, earthquake drills and shelter-in-place drills -- such as those needed in a chemical spill. He said Hearst had already planned an intruder drill in January, but he added a second drill will probably be held before the end of the year.

With easy access to pretty much any school in the district -- none of them is locked, for example -- Kuhfal said it's not so much a matter of keeping strangers out as it is protecting children.

"If someone wants to do something, they're going to find a way to do it, so we have to react," he said, pointing out that the gunman in Connecticut shot locks off doors.

There are special teams for safety, search and rescue and first aid, to name three. There are backups in case a staff member can't be contacted or is off school grounds. There are backpacks and fanny packs with supplies in in different parts of the school.

"Every staff member has a role in a drill. If an intruder happens, they know to get kids to a safe place," Kuhfal said. "We also have a system in place to account for every student (in case one is out of the room, such as using a bathroom)."

The school has several different evacuation plans based on specific conditions.

And he said the Pleasanton police department, which comes to some school drills, has given Hearst a thumbs up.

"Police going down halls here were amazed how quiet it was," Kuhfal said.

The shooting has echoed across the state, with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and education leaders in California, sending a letter to President Obama in the wake of last week's deadly school shootings.

"Our state Department of Education and Emergency Management Agency jointly asked California's schools last week to immediately begin reviewing their safety policies, and they are doing so," Torlakson wrote in his letter.

"In schools across California today, teachers, administrators, and classified employees are reassuring students and parents that our schools remain safe places for students to be," Torlakson said.

"In addition to these important steps, we are also prepared to heed the call for a wider national conversation about school safety," he added. "We speak for our students, teachers, administrators, parents, and all Californians when we say this violence against our children must stop " Kuhfal said the district has an opportunity to study what happened in Connecticut so that it can increase school safety here.

"We'll learn from that situation to make sure we have procedures in place," he said. "This is a safe school, and it's my job to make sure kids are safe, not just physically safe, but mentally safe, too."

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